The NDA was brought down by the allies of the BJP as much as by anything else in Bihar.
One of the big discussion points before the Bihar Assembly election was whether the Mahagathbandhan (MGB) which appeared to have the arithmetic had the chemistry to win the election because of the previous acrimony between foes-turned-friends Nitish and Lalu. Now that the election is over, one could say with reasonable confidence that both the arithmetic and chemistry worked for the MGB. However, can the same be the said of the more ‘settled’ NDA Alliance?
Chart 1: Average number of votes won by BJP and its allies in each of the seats contested
BJP contested in 159 seats (Source: ECI) while its alliance partners contested in 84 seats. The average number of votes won presents a stark difference. While BJP won 58,541 votes per constituency, its allies won only 43,839 votes per constituency.
Chart 2: Average number of votes won by BJP and its allies in contests versus MGB
In the second chart, we compare average votes per seat of BJP as well as its allies in contests versus MGB. While the gap between MGB and BJP is about 8,000 per seat, it shoots up to nearly 21,000 (2.5x) for seats contested by NDA allies.
Chart 3: Average number of votes by BJP and its allies for the same set of seats, 2014 v 2015
In the 159 seats that the BJP contested in 2015, the average number of votes it cornered was lower by 1,350 votes per assembly segment when compared with 2014 Lok Sabha polls. However, a similar comparison for its alliance partners show that there is a sharp drop of 8,500 votes (16%) from 2014.
The losses can be explained by huge increase in share of independents from ‘4.3%’ in 2014 to ‘9.4%’ in 2015. On closer investigation it appears that many of these independents who gained from NDA allies were upper caste independents or BJP rebels. In sum, many BJP voters chose upper caste rebels/ independents over BJP’s lower caste allies. We will see below why?
Why chemistry was missing among BJP & its allies?
BJP from day one relied heavily on the fact that despite having arithmetic on their side, chemistry is missing between the MGB allies (Nitish-Lalu and Lalu-Rahul). BJP felt that this would hamper seamless transfer of votes across parties in MGB. This did prove to be true, MGB lost 3.1% vote share in these elections compared to 2014. However, BJP forgot to take care of chemistry in their own alliance assuming it to be given and in the process lost 5.3% vote share compared to 2014.
The chemistry between NDA partners soured from the day Manjhi was accommodated into the alliance. Paswan till then was the undisputed leader of Dalits in NDA. With the entry of Manjhi equations changed. Manjhi claimed to be the undisputed leader of Mahadalits (10%) who are approximately twice in population compared to Dalits (6%). This changed the dynamics within the alliance. Both Paswan & Manjhi lay their claim to the same SC/ST seats and Dalit / Mahadalit high concentration district seats (Gaya, Jehanabad and Nawada).
When BJP gave more seats to Paswan’s LJP it was not taken well by Manjhi and there was an ugly public spat between the two leaders. This was doused by the BJP somehow before the polls. This game of one-upmanship cost BJP dearly in the polls. This seems to have impacted the Mahadalits voting for LJP candidates and Dalits voting for HAM candidates in seats contested by them respectively.
On the other hand both Paswan and Kushwaha were peeved at getting half the number of seats they original demanded (LJP 42 vs 75). It’s another matter that NDA could have ended up at a much worse tally if BJP would have agreed to their demands.
As discussed above, upper caste appear to have voted in less number for NDA candidates in these elections compared to LS polls. In 2014 LS polls, 78% of upper castes voted for NDA (CSDS), this loyal support base of BJP, also voted in large numbers for LJP and RLSP candidates enabling them to win 6/7 and 3/3 of the seats contested in May 2014. But this was due to the Modi factor. People voted for Modi and not necessarily LJP / RLSP candidates. As per AXIS, only 70% upper castes seem to have voted for NDA (this is a sharp 8% drop). As per our estimates this drop is more than 10% and could even be as high as 15% in LJP, RLSP, HAM contested seats.
Why did upper caste support for NDA decline?
- Upper caste has been alienated for a long time and been out of power in Bihar for the past two and half decades. BJP, though, did not declare a CM candidate, however, many leaders during the campaign declared that it would install a backward / most backward CM. This seems to have peeved the community. Why should upper caste vote for NDA when it like MGB was also projected to install a backward CM?
- The side lining of stalwart community leaders like Lal Muni Choubey, Kailashpati Mishra and Shatrughan Sinha upset some of the upper caste members.
- The tussle of gaining dominance in upper caste between Rajputs and Brahmins is also one of the reasons for the defeat. While Brahmins appear overwhelmingly supporting BJP, Rajputs appear to have supported JDU candidates as well in large numbers.
- Congress seems to have won back a portion of the upper caste voters, especially in seats where it fielded upper caste candidates. . In a direct fight with NDA where both Congress and NDA fielded upper caste candidates, Congress won 7 out of 11 seats. A section of upper caste felt that Congress would negate any Lalu led acrimony against the community after MGB win.
- Finally, Nitish popularity ratings helped MGB garner some upper caste voters.
Why was upper caste support for BJP partners LJP, HAM, RLSP even lesser?
In 8 direct contests of upper castes between BJP allies and MGB, BJP allies won only one of these seats. The upper caste vote witnessed serious split / division wherever BJP had given tickets to HAM, LJP and RLSP. They were considered by voters as junior partners. The split of votes was also clearly visible in 9 seats where allies fought against MGB upper caste candidates where they won only one seat. As per on ground feedback, BJP canvassing for its allies was also seen missing in many of these seats with BJP focussing on high probability win seats where it was contesting.
People who favoured NDA to win the elections always mentioned that this election is not about arithmetic alone, but also chemistry. They were correct, it was about both arithmetic and chemistry and NDA failed on both counts.